Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Conversion Musket Part II

While armories and contractors converted many a musket from flintlock to percussion in the 1850s, there were not enough percussion muskets available to equip the thousands that would flock to enlist in 1860 and 1861.    While federal armories had been and were producing new percussion weapons, such as the Springfield  Models 1855 and 1860 (the Confederate government utilized equipment captured from the Union armory at Harpers Ferry in April of 1861 to produce copies of the federal Springfield muskets at Richmond, Virginia and Fayetteville, North Carolina), and state and federal governments were importing European arms such as the British pattern 1853 Enfield rifle musket and the Austrian Lorenz,  conversion of muskets from flintlock to percussion continued at break neck speed to meet the needs of the troops in the field.  The musket shown below is one such musket.

This smoothbore musket started life as a Model 1822 flintlock musket manufactured by contractor W.T. Wickham of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1833.  As depicted below, it is a bolster conversion which, based upon the manner in which the conversion was performed, is most likely the work of  M.A. Baker.    Baker operated in Fayetteville, North Carolina from 1857 to 1862.  Pre-war, he manufactured sporting rifles.   During the war, he received a contract to alter muskets and common (civilian) rifles from flintlock to percussion.  It is also believed that he received a contract from the State of North Carolina to manufacture percussion locks as examples exist bearing his name on the face.  

This conversion is particularly crude.  The pan has been cut away leaving a gap in the metal.  No time or effort was expended to create and insert  proper bolster in the angular cut (one manufactured to sit flush in the cut.  Rather, the gunsmith utilized a round bolster in a square cut -- the proverbial round peg in a square hole.  He also changed the bands holding the barrel to the stock.  The original bands were held in place by metal retention springs mounted on the wood stock.  The gunsmith replaced these with Enfield type bands which tighten by virtue of a screw on the bottom.    As depicted below, the gunsmith scored the Roman numeral XV on the top of the lock.   A corresponding mark exists in the stock where the lock in inserted.  The gunsmith made the marks to ensure that he placed the lock back with the correct stock and barrel.

It is with a musket such as this that many a soldier would first see battle -- especially the early battles of First Bull Run/Manasas in 1861 and Shiloh/Pittsburg Landing in 1862.  While neither as accurate or  reliable as an 1860 Springfield or an Enfield, the smoothbore conversion musket served better than the flintlock or shotgun that some soldiers, especially Southerners, carried until they could pick up or were issued a more modern long arm.